A New Home for Our Feathered Friends

December 14, 2015

Printed in the December 13 edition of the Durham Herald-Sun

Just 11 miles west of downtown Durham, a new oasis is being created for local wildlife and community members who enjoy hiking, biking, and getting outside.

Brumley Forest Nature Preserve, a 600-acre sanctuary from urban life owned by Triangle Land Conservancy, will be opened to the public in Fall 2016. However, with a recent upgrade to the property, a different type of crowd is expected to start flocking the preserve this spring. Thanks to the generosity of volunteers, TLC recently installed a tower at Brumley specifically for Chimney Swifts.

Chimney Swift Tower at Brumley Forest Nature Preserve

Volunteers constructed a two-feet base for the tower upon which they placed three four-foot sections of grooved plywood siding.

Common summer sights in North Carolina, Chimney Swifts (Chaetura pelagica) are a small, fast-flying gray bird with a cigar-shaped body. They spend almost all of their time in flight and eat airborne insects like flies and beetles. Look and listen for the loud chattering of large groups at dusk in the early fall as the swifts migrate back to South America.

Chimney Swifts, like many other bird species, are declining in numbers throughout North America. Between 1966 and 2007, their total population in the US fell 53 percent.

One possible contributing factor is the loss of habitat. Chimney Swifts spend most of their time in flight, but rest on vertical surfaces like hollow trees and chimneys. Chimney capping and the diminishing popularity of chimneys in newer homes have eliminated many potential resting and nesting sites for the birds.

The new tower at Brumley mimics a chimney. Essentially, it’s a 14-foot shaft made of grooved plywood siding, but to the birds, it’s as good as any five-star hotel. The idea for the tower came from TLC volunteer Phil Bushnell.

“I first heard about these birds when my wife and I traveled to Canada,” remembered Phil. While eating dinner, “a big cloud of birds came and swirled around a chimney outside the restaurant and it was fun to watch.”

Phil decided to learn more. He discovered growing efforts to create new habitats for the swifts by building false chimneys. He bought a book with sample plans and built a tower in his own backyard.

Chimney Swift Tower Construction at Brumley Forest Nature Preserve

Phil Bushnell and other volunteers attached weather-resistant cedar shingles to the outside of the tower.

After a few years of waiting and no visitors, he needed a new location for the tower. Phil had joined the Trail Crew volunteers at Brumley Forest and asked TLC if they were interested in his idea. Phil is very excited about the new chimney, adding, “It’s a place for the birds, but also a place for people to observe the birds.”

TLC is not alone in local efforts to help the Chimney Swift. The N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences teamed up with the Wake Audubon Society this past August to build a chimney at the Prairie Ridge Ecostation. Phil is also working with New Hope Audubon Society to potentially place more chimneys in parks and schools around Durham.

The transformation of Brumley Forest into a public nature preserve requires much more than the construction of the Chimney Swift tower. This fall, volunteers and staff started building trails for what will become a 12-mile trail system.

All trails will be open to hikers and eight miles will also be available for mountain biking. TLC has partnered withTriangle Off-Road Cyclists (TORC) to both build and maintain the multi-use trails.

Anyone interested in learning more should check out the Chimney Swift Conservation Association atchimneyswifts.org and anyone interested in volunteering with TLC at Brumley Forest Nature Preserve should visittriangleland.org/volunteer.

Volunteers and crew build the Chimney Swift tower at Brumley Forest Nature Preserve. Video by Bob Sowa.

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